Twelve short weeks ago, I was preparing for my first ever dog to come and live with us – a rescue dog called Tilly. I promised you all an update on how we got on so, here goes…
When I lost my hearing suddenly in 2011, I became convinced that a Hearing Dog would help me feel more safe, secure and confident. I was, therefore disappointed to learn about the five year waiting list for a Hearing Dog so, I put the idea to the back of my mind, not even bothering to apply. [This is by no means a criticism of the Hearing Dog Charity: I think they are wonderful and I would love to have been lucky enough to benefit from their sterling work. They do the best they can with the resources they have and each dog costs a small fortune to train and I am in awe of what they – and the dogs – can achieve. My only wish is that they had more resources to enable them to help people more quickly.]
A year after going deaf, my yearning for a dog was still there and, as you’ll know from my previous blogs, my husband, Richard and I decided to ‘go for it’ and apply for a rescue dog this August in the hope that she would perform some of the functions of an official hearing dog – but without the accreditation and expert training. I mainly wanted her to be able to let me know when someone was at the door or when the phone rang – and if I dropped something or if there was a noise in the house or garden. Richard said he felt sure most dogs would be able to do that so we thought we’d give it a go.
On 2nd September, I went down to London from Yorkshire by train to collect Tilly from her fabulous foster carer, Christine for whom the handover was quite emotional – but Tilly was as good as gold. She didn’t seem at all phased by the hundreds of people dashing around Kings Cross, or the change of owner and ultimately the change of name from Shirley to Tilly.
[I have to say at this point that Tilly has climbed up on my knee and is lying there comfortably, quite oblivious to how hard she’s making it for me to type!]
She sat on my knee all the way home and seemed very relaxed to be with me and my mother-in-law and didn’t make a fuss at all. At our destination, she greeted my husband with some very vigorous tail-wagging and some licks so, we took it she was happy to see him.
Now, if you’ve ever read about our pampered pet chickens, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to know that we had a new bed and her favourite food ready for her – along with a new bowl with pictures of bunting on. [What? I’m sure it’s what she would have chosen!] So, I doubt you’ll be surprised that we didn’t even manage one night with her sleeping downstairs. Well, she was whining; it had been a long day for her; it was all new. Ah, what the hell, we didn’t like the thought of her down there alone. It was just like the opening scene from Lady and the Tramp. And yes, by the second night, she was sleeping on the bed.
We soon settled into a routine of feeds, walks and little trips up the garden and, barring a few little accidents indoors, it was a very smooth transition to the mechanics of becoming a dog-owner but, what I wasn’t quite prepared for was the overwhelming feeling of love I had for this little bundle of fluff. It was as though I was ‘in love’ with her: every time I saw her, I’d smile – even just thinking about her made me smile and, it wasn’t just me: my husband was smitten too.
When I wake up in a morning, instead of focussing on my tinnitus, I get up and feed Tilly who greets me with a very waggy tail and much fussing. I then usually take her back to bed with me while we have our morning cuppa and she entertains us until my tinnitus has faded out of all perception. This is a wonderful way to start the day!
It has been an honour and a privilege to welcome Tilly into our home and our hearts. We have watched her grow in confidence and become more independent. She is no longer a quiet, shy, little chubster – she’s shed pounds and got fitter. She runs faster, jumps higher and she’s met new dogs, run on beaches, chased a few seagulls and squirrels and grown in confidence with every new encounter and experience. She’s scampered up country lanes and met (and been largely unimpressed with) horses, cows and sheep (whilst on her lead of course).
As for her skills as an unofficial Hearing Dog – well, she does everything I wanted her to do. Wherever I am in the house or garden, she’s there. She follows me around like a lost lamb and yet, I know she is looking out for me and protecting me at all times. Wherever we are, if she pricks up her ears and goes into her ‘alert’ body posture, I know she’s heard something and is listening for what it is. If it’s Richard coming home, she’ll trot off to welcome him with a wag of her tail and a lick of the hand but if it’s anyone or anything else she’s concerned about, she will bark to alert me.
Even without my hearing aids, I can hear her high pitch bark – but unless I’m in bed or getting out of the shower, I usually have my aids in (but if I couldn’t hear her bark, I would still be able to see that she was barking and reacting to a noise, such as a doorbell).
Unlike official Hearing Dogs, Tilly doesn’t have a different signal to differentiate for me what she has heard – but basically, when she barks, I see where she goes and I follow her. I think it was really important that I show her I always believe her when she alerts me to a sound and, even if there’s nobody at the door, at least she knows I’m taking her seriously when I check it out. When this happens, she does a funny little shrug as if to say, “There was something. I heard something.” And I praise her anyway because it doesn’t happen often and I’m sure she really did hear something.
Did I mention that Tilly is a charmer? She’s charmed two delivery men already this week. One was so besotted as she reminded him of his late Westie that I nearly offered him a cup of tea! She made a right fuss of him and I think it made his day.
So, Tilly is a great unofficial Hearing Dog indoors but what about outdoors? Well, that’s another story!
Angie is a part-time journalist, food and travel writer, photographer and co-founder of Twitter’s top weekly business networking event, #Yorkshirehour. She is also the new External Relationships Manager at Hearing Link. She is a chicken-keeper, gardener and ‘foodie’ living in glorious Yorkshire with her husband, Richard and their precious Westie, Tilly. Angie started going progressivley deaf in one ear at the age of 30 and then suffered total sudden onset hearing loss in her ‘good’ ear in 2011. You can check out her website, blog, twitter account, Facebook and Linked In.
The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.
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